What Causes Elevated Liver Enzymes?

Elevated liver enzymes indicate that some kind of problem exists in your liver. Elevated liver enzymes are evident long before outward physical symptoms appear, so it’s important for everyone who is at risk for liver trouble to have regular physical exams that check liver enzyme levels.

Liver enzymes are proteins which help your liver perform many functions related to your metabolism and the chemical balances in your body. There are thousands of these enzymes in your liver, and when something goes wrong, they begin to accumulate at abnormal levels.

There are dozens of possible reasons liver enzymes become elevated. Some of the most common include diabetes and excessive use of alcohol (which can lead to cirrhosis or alcohol-induced hepatitis). Viral forms of hepatitis are among the most common causes of elevated liver enzymes, as are cancerous tumors in the liver and bile ducts. Certain metabolic liver disorders like hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease are very hard on the liver. Mononucleosis and malaria are two illnesses that can cause significant liver damage.

These are fairly obvious causes of elevated liver enzymes. But many people are unaware that certain medications and supplements, when overused or used improperly, can threaten liver health too. Medications that can be risky include various nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, cholesterol-lowering medications, antibiotics and anti-seizure medications. Concentrated doses of acetaminophen (Tylenol) are definitely not recommended. Sedatives should be used carefully, sparingly and only with a doctor’s advice.

Excessive use of herbal supplements such as kava, comfrey, pennyroyal and skullcap can lead to liver trouble. Many Chinese herbal preparations can damage the liver and should be avoided as well.

Even some vitamins, when taken in large doses or in dangerous combination’s, can be hazardous. Vitamins A, D, E and K are among these.

One of the least known causes of liver trouble is obesity. Being overweight strains body systems in many ways, but it can have a direct impact on liver function. Obesity is one of the major causes of a condition known as fatty liver disease. When you have this disorder, it means that abnormal amounts of fat are accumulating in your liver. These fat deposits irritate the liver, which leads to inflammation. When liver tissue is inflamed, liver cells are destroyed and replaced with scar tissue. This impairs liver function and triggers elevated liver enzymes.

Once again, there are few signs and symptoms of liver trouble in the early stages of a problem. When symptoms finally do present themselves, however, they could include pain in the upper right abdomen, swelling in the area below the rib cage on the right side, and yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes (a condition known as jaundice).

When you have a physical exam and elevated liver enzymes are diagnosed, you may need some additional tests to find the underlying cause of the problem. Your doctor will probably suggest an ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, or biopsy.

Often, you can bring down high enzyme levels with lifestyle changes. Eating a nutritious, low-fat diet and using alcohol moderately – or not at all – can certainly help. Talk to your doctor about any medications, vitamins and supplements you’re taking. Exercise, of course, is good for all parts of your body, and that includes your liver.

Doing these things and getting regular physical exams that check for elevated liver enzymes can go a long way toward keeping your liver healthy and avoiding liver problems in the future.